The methods of committing neonaticide, infanticide, and filicide are as diverse as the women who commit the tragic crime. According to Rouge-Maillart, Jousset, Gaudin, Bouju, and Penneau (2005), strangulation, head trauma, drowning, and suffocation were the four most frequent methods of filicide. However, in these researchers' study, some mothers used what they deem to be 'more active' methods. Five children died after being struck by their mothers' fists. Two women in the study used a firearm to shoot their children. Two died after being hit with a heavy object, by their mother -- one a monkey wrench the other a stone. One woman slit her 13-year-old's throat. In one case, a 3-year-old boy died by defenestration -- being thrown out of the window. Lastly, a 10-month-old died of starvation and dehydration, after being deprived of food and water for 10 days.
Krischer, Stone, Sevecke, and Steinmeyer's (2007) study uncovered a variety of methods of killing children in their 57 cases. Of particular interest is the relationship to the type of homicide to the method used. The researchers found that neonaticide was most often committed, in their sample, by either suffocating or hitting. Infanticide was most closely related to firesetting. In contrast, filicide was most often found related to the methods of stabbing and shooting.
Statistics of Perpetrators
Depending on the mental health variable, the statistics for perpetrators differ greatly. In Krischer, Stone, Sevecke, and Steinmeyer's (2007) study of 57 women who had been admitted to Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Hospital from 1976 to 2000, a majority of the women were over the age of 30, with only 7% being teenagers. Using this same data, Stone, Steinmeyer, Dreher, and Krishner (2005) found that eighty-one percent were from low socioeconomic demographics. Of the ten mothers Kauppi, Kumpulainen, Vanamo, Merikanto, and Karkola's (2008) studied, the mean age was 28.5 years. Eighty percent of the perpetrators lived in rural areas, while the other 20% lived in smaller cities. As a whole, the level of education was low and only 30% held white-collar jobs, while the remainder were skilled workers. All ten were married. Seventy percent of the mothers indicated that the child was wanted, and for half this was not their first child. Only 2 out of the 10 mothers indicated difficulties in their marriage, with 1 indicating domestic violence. In this study, only 3 had a previous mental disorder history. However, half indicated they had a lack of support. In Rouge-Maillart, Jousset, Gaudin, Bouju, and Penneau's (2005) research, the mean age of mothers was 29.5 years-old, with none under the age of 19. Approximately one-third were unemployed. Yet, 70% of the perpetrators were married.
Interestingly, Craig (2004) suggests the opposite findings for the demographics of mothers who commit infant homicide. Specifically neonaticide, Craig surmises, is more common among teenage mothers, than older mothers. In addition, lower levels of education are also common among those who commit neonaticide. However, Craig notes that although these conditions may have an association with poverty, this relationship is not certain.
Prevention of Infant Homicide
There have been a variety of programs put into place to help prevent the tragedy of neonaticide, infanticide and filicide from happening. One of the leading factors of younger perpetrators, as mentioned earlier, is a lack of parental communication. Having a more open relationship with their teenagers could prevent some teenagers from going through the denial of pregnancy only to take matters to the extreme, after the birth of their child. Other alternatives could be sought including adoption or abortion. Likewise, sexual education could prevent the pregnancy in the first place and may be the most proactive measure against infant homicide.
Safe Haven legislation also has been put in place in 48 states, in America, since 1999. Texas was the first state to implement this legislation that allows for legal relinquishment of infants at specific locations (Atwood, 2008). Depending on the state, the age of the infant varies, but all programs offer parents an option to have their child taken care of legally, without fearing prosecution, and without the need to abandon the child illegal or commit neonaticide or infanticide (Trossman, 2006).
Atwood (2008) notes the efficacy of these programs are in question. He cites an article in Child Maltreatment which found that the number of newborns that the rate of illegally abandoned newborns was approximately the same both before and after the passage of the Safe Haven legislation. This survey reported that only 11 infants had been relinquished, in Texas, through this program. However, the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation reported this figure to be 36 newborns.
The are numerous variables that have come to light with this paper. The lack of accurate data, due to many of the infant homicides going unreported or misreported, has meant there is still much uncertainty in the basics forming this problem. Researchers cannot even agree upon the common demographic features of the mothers. More research needs to be conducted in order to better understand which mothers are most at risk for committing this horrendous crime, and their motivations for doing so. Even better data needs to be collected from Safe Haven facilities, to ensure they are being utilized. Lack of understanding about how these facilities work, or not even knowing they exist, could lead to their under-use. Only through more research can effective prevention programs be designed and implemented in order to stop mothers from killing their babies.
Atwood, T. (Feb 2008). Comment: National Council for Adoption's response to the Texas Safe Haven Study. Child Maltreatment, 13(1). pp. 96-97.
Craig, M. (Feb 2004). Perinatal risk factors for neonaticide and infant homicide. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 97. pp. 57-61.
Friedman, S., Horwitz, S., & Resnick, P. (2005) Child murder by mothers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162. pp. 1578-1587.
Kauppi, A. Kumpulainen, K. Vanamo, T. Merikanto, J and Karkola K. (2008)Maternal depression and filicide. Archives of Women's Mental Health, 11. pp. 201-206.
Krischer, M., Stone, M., Sevecke, K., & Steinmeyer, E. (2007) Motives for maternal filicide: Results from a study with female forensic patients. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 30. pp. 191-200.
Montaldo, C. (2009). Women who kill their children. Retrieved November 19, 2009, from http://crime.about.com/od/female_offenders/a/mother_killers.htm.…